Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends
Environment & Science

Long Beach to sue Los Angeles over Southern California International Gateway

A cargo ship in Long Beach harbor. The SCIG railyard will enable trucks to transfer cargo onto trains closer to the port.
A cargo ship in Long Beach harbor. The SCIG railyard will enable trucks to transfer cargo onto trains closer to the port.

In a completely unsurprising move, the Long Beach City Council has authorized the city attorney to sue the city of Los Angeles over the Southern California International Gateway.

It’s not surprising because, at hearings over the last several months, lots of folks, including Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, have been asking L.A. to reconsider the $500 million privately-funded railyard proposed for a site along the 710 freeway near Wilmington and West Long Beach.

Foster told L.A. harbor commissioners back in March that BNSF, the project’s sponsor, has been unresponsive to community concerns. “What they really said is…we’re going to wait 'til you sue us before we deal with these concerns," Foster told the harbor commissioners, in unusually public criticism of the port. “This body has done precious little to mitigate the impacts of what we see. I hope that changes."

Last night’s vote in Long Beach sets up the likelihood of two lawsuits challenging SCIG’s environmental impact report. Environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, also have repeatedly raised objections to the project. As recently as last week, the NRDC said legal challenges were certain, with a federal civil rights challenge possible.

In a letter to the L.A. City Council, NRDC attorney David Pettit wrote that the SCIG project “exudes environmental injustice,” and noted that the project’s EIR admitted that significant impacts “would fall disproportionately on minority and low-income populations" living near the railyard.

All of the legal threats may make it hard to remember that these same entities – the city of L.A., the city of Long Beach, and environmental groups, including the NRDC – united in support of the Clean Air Action Plan, and, for a while at least, the Clean Trucks Program. At the time, the plan represented a renewed effort by the ports to incorporate the concerns of environmental and community groups into its planning.

One project does not a trend make. But here’s what comes next at the port of Los Angeles: more expansion. BNSF’s competitor, UP, will be looking to enhance its own railyard capabilities, for example. So what this project might signal is more legal costs for the city and for the community at a time when everyone’s saying they’re broke.